Baltimore gives special spice to a special lunch

May 05, 1994|By Bill Tanton

There's nothing like Baltimore. Nothing else comes close.

Take the little luncheon we had this week in honor of Ernie Accorsi. It couldn't have happened anywhere else.

A small bunch of local men go out to lunch two or three times a year. Jerry Hoffberger, the former Orioles owner, is one of them.

So is Hank Peters, who was once Hoffberger's general manager. Peters has retired as Cleveland's GM and is living back in Baltimore.

"I'd like to host a luncheon in honor of Ernie Accorsi," Hoffberger said recently.

Great idea. Let's honor Ernie, the former Colts and Cleveland Browns GM who this year joined the Orioles' front office.

"Let's do this at Frank Sliwka's place," Hoffberger said.

Again, great idea. Sliwka has run the Tops in Sports baseball banquet for 31 years. He has a bar and restaurant, Renee's, on Hollins Ferry Road in Lansdowne.

Hoffberger didn't know where Sliwka's place was. In fact, he didn't know where Lansdowne was -- but he found out.

So there we were in Sliwka's place, old friends glad to see one another, all of us wandering around, admiring the greatest collection of autographed baseball celebrity photos you're likely to see anywhere.

What Frank Sliwka does, you see, is always going to be the best.

Tops in Sports? Greatest banquet in America. His restaurant? "Best crab cake in town," Sliwka says.

That being Sliwka's style, we should not have been surprised at what happened next. Sliwka, remember, knows everybody.

I figured out who was on his way when I saw the young state police security man with the hearing thing in his right ear and a wire spilling down into the jacket of his dark suit.

"Did you invite the governor?" I asked Sliwka.

"Yeah, I just talked to him," he said. "He's on his way in from Columbia."

I went to Hoffberger and asked if he realized Governor Schaefer was joining his party. He didn't.

"Good!" Hoffberger said. "The more the merrier."

In a few minutes Schaefer was walking into this modest place in the Lansdowne Shopping Center.

We all sat down and ate crab cakes and talked about a lot of things -- about the Orioles and their new owner, Peter Angelos. We talked about Hank Peters' winter in Florida and rockfishing in Maryland, which is something the governor hopes to do a lot of when he leaves office in a few months.

Now Hoffberger was raising his glass.

"I propose a toast to Ernie Accorsi," he said, "to let him know how pleased we are that he's joined the Orioles and that he's come back to live in Baltimore."

And then, coats off and placed on chairbacks, we went back to the crab cakes and shrimp salad and the myriad of subjects that any group of people might discuss at lunch. For once, Schaefer was just being one of the boys.

"What are our chances of getting an NFL team to come to Baltimore?" I asked him.

"Pete Angelos [Schaefer's point man in the effort] says he's getting close," Schaefer said. "But if Pete doesn't get it -- it's over."

After an hour of conviviality, the governor went back to work. He was barely out the door when Peter Angelos walked in. Angelos and Sliwka were once classmates at the University of Maryland Law School.

Hoffberger marveled that Angelos' Orioles, for a noon game a week ago, had drawn 48,000 people.

"When I owned the club," Hoffberger said with a little smile, "I couldn't draw 48,000 for a World Series."

Peters recalled: "We had 50,000 at Memorial Stadium for Thanks Brooks Robinson Day on a Sunday in 1977. We were a game and a half out of first place. The next night we drew 5,000."

"Why was that, marketing?" asked Angelos.

"Marketing had something to do with it," Peters told the new owner (this was the first time they had met). "But some other important factors entered into it.

"Things began to turn around in '79. Jerry announced in '78 that the club was for sale. The fans were afraid out-of-town owners would take the team out of Baltimore so they began to support us in greater numbers.

" '79 was our first year with WFBR, which did a great job promoting the club. It was our first year with Channel 2. Plus, we won the pennant."

Now it was my turn.

"The governor," I said to Angelos, "says you're close to getting an NFL team here."

"It looks pretty good," he said matter of factly.

"For what? Getting the Rams?" I asked.

"They're the most likely team to come here," Angelos said.

"Will you buy a piece of the Rams?" I asked.

"If I have to," Angelos said.

If he has to. A large minority share in the Rams would cost Angelos -- what? -- $40 million? Fifty million? Sixty?

Why would he do this? Not to get rich, certainly.

He'd do it mostly as a service to his community. He'd do it to bring back the NFL. He'd do it because his old pal from City Council days, Don Schaefer, wanted him to.

You get the feeling that if Schaefer wanted Angelos to run for governor, Pete would do that -- and there are those who still don't rule that out.

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